Volume 5 : Cover Topic - Contemporary Indian Cinema Society & Culture (5)

Glimpses of Assamese Cinema

Manik Borah


When Assamese film started to give the first step, Indian Film Industry developed with full maturity parallel to International highly developed Film Industries. It was in 10th March, 1935 that the first Assamese film Joymati was released at Calcutta as there were no regular cinema halls in Assam during that period. (In Guwahati and Dibrugarh there were two temporary provisions for cinema screening). Joymati was released in Assam at Uzanbazar Theatre Hall in Guwahati on 20th March, 1935. It is sad that Assamese Cinema could not experience the different experiments of the silent era, which gave cinema its real soul. Moreover it was quite absurd to think of making a film at that time in Assam when no facilities were available. It was Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla, one of the most versatile personalities of Assam, who made it possible by creating an atmosphere of film making with an artificial Film Studio at Bholaguri, Tezpur. He bought the necessary equipments from places as far as Lahore. Jyoti Prasad went to England for higher studies and had an opportunity to witness the Expressionist Film Studios of Germany and gathered some knowledge of film making there. When he returned to Assam he thought deeply about making a real Assamese film, which would reflect the pure cultural aroma of Assamese society. He decided to picturise the historical character of Joymati, which is deeply embodies in every Assamese individual. He did it with most artistic skills of filmmaking. The film, Joymati, itself reveals that its creator was quite aware of the aesthetic sense of this visual media as an individual art form. Joymati is a real milestone even for Indian cinema for its aesthetic value of highly sensitive image making in narrative structure. His second film Indramalati was released in 1939, which was also a highly artistic endeavor of the great master.

Jyoti Prasad involved a band of young talents for filmmaking but both the films were not commercially successful as there were no sufficient exhibition halls that could return the money. In 1941, the third film was produced with the story of a famous historical novel Manomati of Rajani Kanta Bordoloi, which was directed by Rohini Kumar Barua. By then though the interest of filmmaking was growing among the enthusiasts nobody could dare to take a venture into actual filmmaking fearing the financial loss. After a silence of five years, another famous poet, Parbati Prasad Barua, took the initiative to make a film with his own story, screenplay and music. After this, another Assamese film Rupahi was also remarkable from its aesthetic point of view. These four early films had built a strong foundation of Assamese film industry, which led to a series of productions in later years. In 1948, another milestone of Assamese film Siraj was directed jointly by Phani Sharma and Bishnu Prasad Rabha both graduated from Joymati as close associates of Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla. It was a bold and timely taken step to make a film of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony in the year of communal riots in different places of the country. This was the first Assamese film to achieve commercial success. The success of Siraj encouraged film enthusiasts and annual prduction of films started with at least one or two film productions every year and during the 1950's nineteen films were produced in Assam. All the directors were from a strong cultural background mostly from the stage career. They were Kamal Narayan Choudhury (Badan Borphukan), Prabin Phukan (Parghat), Asit Sen (Biplabee), Suresh Goswami (Runumi), Sunil Gangopadhyay (Sati Beula), Lakhya Dhar Chaudhuri (Nimila Anka), Phani Sharma (Peoli Phukan, Dhumuha), Anwar Husain (Sara Pat, Natun Pritivi), Nip Baruah (Smritir Parash, Mak aru Morom, Ranga Police, Bhakta Prahlad, Amar Ghar), Bhaben Des (Lakhimi), Saila Baruah (Chanakya), Dr. Bhupen Hazarika and Prabhat Mukherjee with two outstanding films Ara Bator Sur and Puberun. All the directors were very honest to their work and executed their task with utmost sincerity which resulted in a good taste of film making with great regard to human values. Dr. Bhupen Hazarika's Ara Bator Sur (1956) opened a new dimension of Assamese film. The camera came out to the real atmosphere to cover fragments of the working class of the society, their actual life of desires, struggles and enjoyment. This film is a turning point of Assamese films. Another film directed by Prabhat Mukherjee, Puberun, was also a classical product of master craftsmanship. This is the first Assamese film to be exhibited in the Berlin International Film Festival of 1960.

During the next decade few new faces were introduced in the direction of Assamese films. Anil Chaudhury (Matir Sarga), Brajen Baruah (Eti Hitu Bahatu), Sarbeswar Chakraborty (Maniram Dewan), Abdul Mazid (Maram Trishna), Amar Pathak (Sangram) besides most of the directors of the previous decade contributed to film makimg. However this decade could not make any remarkable contributions to the production of films in Assam. Two comedy films Etu Hity Bahatu of Brojen Baruah and Loti Ghoti of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika attracted the audience maintaining the trait of the previous comedy film Chanakya of 1959. At the end of the decade Brojen Borua's film Dr. Bezborua could earn financial gain and became the first superhit film. It also gave impetus to the filmmakers in the later years.

In this decade film spectators of Assam showed their eagerness for good cinema. In 1962, Shillong Film Society and in 1965 Gauhati Cine Club were formed at Shillong and Guwahati repectively. These two cine societies, in a very short time, were so crowded that it was difficult to get a membership registration easily and people had to wait in queue. It gave impetus to other cities of Assam to start their own Cine Societies in later years. Digboi, Duliajan, Nowgaon and Karimganj were registered with Federation of Film Society within a short period. In this decade, film spectators of Assam were introduced to the wide range of world classics and films from different countries. They could also take part in discussions and seminars of different cinema movements in different places at different times. People became critical in appreciating a film. As such this decade may be termed as full maturity of film art in Assam.

By the 1970s a group of young talents came into existence. Most of them were FTII graduates. Dulal Saikia, Mukut Bhuyan in Editing, Indu Kalpa Hazarika in Cinematography, Ava Hazarika, Punya Das, Nipon Goswami in Acting and so on. All these Institute graduates joining with other new comers started professional film making with scientific craftsmanship. Assamese Film Industry boomed in this decade. A total of 58 films were released during this period most of which were of artistic excellence. This decade also introduced few master craftsmen of Assamese film like Indu Kalpa Hazarika (Manab aru Danab), Pulak Gogoi (Khoj), Padum Baruah, founder president of Shillong Cine Society, (Ganga Chilanir Pakhi), Dr. Bhabendranath Saikia (Sandhyarag) and Atul Bordoloi (Kallol).

In the next decade production continued with full vigour and another young institute graduate Jahnu Baruah made his debut in Assamese film with Aparupa in 1982. Jahnu made his most outstanding picture Haladhiya Charaye Bao Dhan Khai (1987) which first brought the National Best Film award to Assamese film. This film was also praised in International Film Festivals and earned four awards in the Locarno International Film Festival in 1988.

The grand success of this film encouraged a group of young talents to make good films. Gautam Bora (Wasibipu), Sanjib Hazarika (Haladhar), Dr. Santanu Bordoloi (Adajya), Jondaw Bodosa (Rape in the virgin forest), Bidyut Chakraborty (Rag Birag), Manju Borah (Baibhab) are the most important among them.

Now Assamese film is in full maturity with several devoted filmmakers in field and is a vital part of Assamese culture. It attracts new talents despite several hazards in exhibition and commercial distribution. Closure of several cinema houses of the state is also a negative aspect in the last few years for the film industry in Assam. Though regional in nature, the Assamese films are now regarded as of artistic taste with human values in National and International field of cinema.



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